After inpatient physical therapy, he was discharged to his home in Williams Township near Easton. He now participates in outpatient physical therapy at Lehigh Valley Health Network’s Health Center at Palmer Township, near his home. He works on his endurance and strength, and resolving the drop foot he developed while critically ill.
A kidney transplant recipient in 2020, Bonilla says his motivation to get better revolved around his family, including his two teenage children. His spirit and motivation were evident to his caregivers, including Charlene Kreider, his inpatient physical therapist at LVH–Cedar Crest.
Bonilla, a longtime martial arts instructor who also operates Dragon Dynamics, a personal training business, was very self-aware and focused, Kreider says. “He was a very motivated patient, and his motivation aided in how much progress he was able to make,” she says. Many patients have shallow breathing after a severe bout with COVID-19, which can be anxiety producing. “He was able to work through that,” she says.
Kreider worked to help Bonilla increase his endurance, strengthen his core muscles and improve his balance so he could safely return home, where he needs to climb 40 steps to reach his third-floor residence. Bonilla says he’s a competitive person, even with himself. “If Charlene asked me to walk 50 feet, I would try to walk 200 feet,” he says.
Each patient is different when it comes to rehabilitation progress, Kreider says. Each is like a puzzle to be solved so they can physically get where they need to be so they can go home. Once those patients turn a corner in their recovery, it becomes more rapid, she says.
Bonilla, she says, was great to work with because of his drive and positive attitude. “He was able to overcome his critical condition and his anxiety,” she says.
Bonilla also is doing well in his outpatient physical therapy. LVHN physical therapist Christopher Rodolico says Bonilla is one of the hardest workers in the room every session. “He possesses an important factor that is hard to quantify but easy to see when someone possesses it: grit. His determination concerning his recovery and rehabilitation is admirable,” Rodolico says. “Despite having a number of challenges and complications tossed his way, there is no doubt that Rafael will continue to progress toward his goals. He’s a true pleasure to be around and work with.”
Bonilla, a former Marine Corps reservist, said he wasn’t vaccinated against COVID-19 when he got sick. At the time, he says, he was still evaluating vaccine information. Because of his kidney transplant and the need for regular anti-rejection medication, his immune system was compromised.
“From a personal standpoint, if we all had the chance to go back and change things, we know better now,” he says. “Be informed and try to make the best choice for you and your physical condition. Be careful, and do things in a smart way.”